1/ Trump denied knowing about the $130,000 payment his lawyer made to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election to buy her silence. Trump said he didn't know where Michael Cohen got the money from and he declined to say if he ever set up a fund for Cohen to cover expenses like that. "You'll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You'll have to ask Michael," Trump said. Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, tweeted: "We very much look forward to testing the truthfulness of Mr. Trump's feigned lack of knowledge concerning the $130k payment as stated on Air Force One. As history teaches us, it is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath." (USA Today / Bloomberg / New York Times / Washington Post)

2/ Trump considered replacing Jeff Sessions with Scott Pruitt as recently as this week. "He was 100% still trying to protect Pruitt because Pruitt is his fill-in for Sessions," a person familiar with Trump's thinking said. Trump remains frustrated that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation more than a year ago. (CNN)

3/ The EPA's top ethics official said he lacked key facts when he concluded that Scott Pruitt's lease with a lobbyist last year didn't violate federal gift rules. Kevin Minoli said Pruitt's lease was predicated on the use of a single room, but Pruitt's daughter stayed in the apartment's second bedroom while she was a White House intern. (Washington Post / New York Times)

4/ At least five EPA officials were reassigned, demoted, or requested new jobs after raising concerns about Scott Pruitt's spending and management of the agency. Officials were concerned about Pruitt's unusually large spending on office furniture, first-class travel, as well as requests for a bulletproof vehicle and a 20-person security detail. (New York Times)

  • Samantha Dravis, a top Pruitt aide, resigned to work in the private sector. Separately, Pruitt's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, has grown frustrated enough with his boss that he has considered resigning. (CNN / Politico / New York Times)

5/ John Kelly to Scott Pruitt: The negative stories need to stop. Kelly called Pruitt a day after Trump told the EPA administrator that "we've got your back" to ask if there is anything else that "hasn't come out" yet. Kelly impressed upon Pruitt that, even though he has the full public confidence of Trump for now, the flow of stories need to stop. (The Daily Beast)

6/ A White House spokesman: "I can't speak to the future of Scott Pruitt." The comment by deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley came during a Fox News interview following revelations about Pruitt's travel expenses and ties to lobbyists, which has thrown his job security into question. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that "the president's not" OK with reports the agency chief rented a condo from a lobbyist for $50 a night. (Politico)

7/ A cooperating witness in Robert Mueller's investigation may have information linking the United Arab Emirates to Russia. George Nader has received at least partial immunity for his cooperation. Nader's international connections helped him arrange several meetings that have drawn the attention of the special counsel, including a meeting in the Seychelles between Kirill Dmitriev, the manager of a state-run Russian investment fund, and a Trump adviser days before Trump took office. (New York Times)

  • Paul Manafort authorized a secret media operation on behalf of Ukraine's former president featuring "black ops" "placed" articles in the Wall Street Journal and US websites, as well as briefing writers at Breitbart to attack HillaryClinton when she was US secretary of state. (The Guardian)

8/ Robert Mercer spent $2 million to back a far-right organization that purchased anti-Muslim ads on Facebook and Google targeted at voters in swing states in 2016 who were most likely to be receptive to them. Secure America Now, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, promoted travel ads meant to stoke fears of Muslims. (OpenSecrets)

  • The Kremlin accused Facebook of censorship for taking down more than 200 pages and accounts that were run by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency — the "troll factory" that is under indictment for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. (NPR)

9/ Trump: Women are being "raped at levels that nobody's ever seen before" and "caravans" of immigrants are headed for the U.S.-Mexico border, bringing drugs and crime with them. Trump didn't provide evidence to support his claims. The comment came during a West Virginia event where Trump was supposed to speak about tax reform. (NBC News / Axios)

  • "You Hate America!": How the "Caravan" Story Exploded on the Right. (New York Times)

10/ Trump dropped his "boring" prepared remarks about the Republican tax bill. Instead, he repeated his claim that "millions" of people are voting illegally. "In many places like California, the same person votes many times," Trump said. "You’ve probably heard of that. They always like to say, 'Oh, that's like a conspiracy theory.' Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people. And it's very hard, because the state guards their records. They don't want to see it." (Politico / The Guardian)

11/ The National Guard troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border will not have physical contact with immigrants, and they will not be responsible for processing them at the border. Trump wants to send between 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard members to the US-Mexico border until a "large portion of the wall is built." (NBC News / Associated Press)

poll/ 41% of Americans approve of Trump's immigration policies, while 38% "strongly disapproved." (Reuters)

poll/ Democrat Phil Bredesen has a 10-point lead over Republican Marsha Blackburn in the race to replace retiring Senator Bob Corker. 45% of respondents would vote for Bredesen if the race were held today, compared to 35% for Blackburn. (The Hill)


Notables.

  1. The White House is considering a proposal to strip protections from hundreds of threatened species to give oil and agriculture companies more freedom to use land that was previously off-limits due to the presence of certain protected species. The proposal is called "Removal of Blanket Section 4(d) Rule," which is used by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect animals and plants that are at risk of becoming endangered. (The Hill)

  2. A Las Vegas GOP political adviser has been accused of sexual enslavement and battery by his ex-fiancee. Benjamin Sparks' ex-fiancee turned over copies of emails, texts, and a signed contract to police, which lay out her duties as Sparks' "slave in training." (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

  3. John Bolton met with White House attorneys about possible conflicts of interest shortly before Trump nominated him for national security advisor. The details are unclear, but experts believe the sticking points may be related to Bolton's possible future role with PACs and Super PACs. (CNBC)

  4. Rex Tillerson spent roughly $12 million on consultants to "redesign" the State Department. As many as 90 consultants worked on the project, with some charging more than $300 an hour. (Politico)

  5. A record-setting 309 women are running for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives – the majority of them Democrats. That previous record of 298 was set in 2012. (Los Angeles Times)